DAWSON -- While the decade of the 2010’s has not been kind to the Dawson Bulldogs and their fans, the last year of the decade is shaping up to a truly magical one.
Long gone is the 43-game losing streak the Bulldogs endured during the first half of the decade, one that actually began with a playoff loss almost nine years ago to the day, 68-41, to Tenaha on November 19, 2010.
For the Bulldog nation, they could see it building over the past couple of seasons.
Since coach Ronnie Striplin arrived in 2017, Dawson has improved each season. In 2017, Dawson finished 3-7, but a one-game improvement over 2016. Then last season, the Bulldogs improved to 5-5, and, even more importantly, qualified for their first playoff berth since that 2010 season.
While that playoff appearance was short, it ended in the first round with a loss to Lovelady, it was a preview of what was to come in 2019.
This season, Dawson finished the regular season with the best record in the Golden Circle at 8-2, only losing to state powers Thorndale and Mart. Now the Bulldogs look to take the next step – advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, when the Bulldogs routed Ranger, 62-12.
In order to do that, look for the Bulldogs to continue their ground assault on defenses. In 10 games this season, Dawson has rushed for more than 3,000 yards on the ground and 36 touchdowns. While that is impressive, it is unbelievable that the Bulldogs have done it with no players with more than 610 yards individually.
For the Bulldogs, it is a total team effort as seven players have rushed for more than 100 yards on the season, while no player has topped 100 carries.
Leading the way are brothers Ja’mariyea and Da’mariyea Hamilton, who have rushed for 610 yards and 589 yards respectively. Right behind them is quarterback Brendan Horner, who has rushed for 551 yards, more than double his passing totals, and Jakoby Moore with 538 yards.
To slow down Evadale’s star running back, Will Farr, Dawson looks to defensive lineman Seth Springer, who averages seven tackles per game, and linebacker Devin Abram, who leads the Bulldogs with four sacks and 15 tackles-for-losses.
Evadale has had an up-and-down season in 2019, opening with wins over Overton and Warren before a cancellation in Week 3. The Rebels followed the unexpected week off with two losses, including one to 4A DI Lumberton, and one to open District 12-2A DII play to state-ranked and eventual district champion Grapeland, 49-12.
Evadale would next win three of the next four games, losing only to private school Beaumont Kelly in a non-district game to replace Sabine Pass, to put the Rebels into the playoffs. The Rebels would close the season with road loss to Lovelady.
The Rebels will bring a balanced offense to face Dawson, rushing for 1,376 yards and passing for 1,251 on the season. Farr, who rushed for 2,338 yards last season, is a dynamic running back that averages 157.3 yards per game on the ground and has scored 13 rushing touchdowns. He has also caught four passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Klay Sylvester has completed a respectable 56.3% of his passes this season for 1,171 yards and 12 touchdowns, while throwing only four interceptions. His top targets are wide receivers Tyler Ferguson (20 catches for 259 yards) and Bryce Tousha (18-361), who has seven touchdown receptions. Tight end Chance Simon only has 11 catches, but for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Defensively, Evadale is led by linebacker Kyler Vernon, who comes in averaging almost 12 tackles per game. For the season, he has already registered 104 tackles in nine games, which is almost as many (114) as he had last season in 12 games. Fellow linebacker, sophomore Trey Lyles, is second on the team with 61 tackles.
While Dawson does not throw the football very much, the Bulldogs will have to be aware of Rebel safety Tom Boles, who leads the team in interceptions with three this season.
Evadale has excelled during the regular season, qualifying for the state playoffs 11 consecutive years, but has struggled during the post season. Out of the previous 10 trips, the Rebels have been bounced in the first round seven times.
Last season was an exception, as Evadale beat Dawson’s county-rival and neighbor Frost, 36-15, in the first round of the playoffs. After beating Clarksville in the second round, the Rebels lost to defending state champ Muenster in the third round, finishing the season at 8-4.
For both teams, the path to the next round of the playoffs begins on Friday night at Crockett High School’s Monte Jack Driskell Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.